Many people still consider gaming a male pursuit – but that is an error that could make many marketers miss an opportunity.
Gaming today is as much for women as men. On some devices, there are more female players than men; for example, on smartphones in the UK 60% of girls aged 10-15 play games on their device, compared to 55% of boys of the same age.
This isn’t a recent trend. Women have been present in gaming from the beginning. All the way back in the 1980’s (ancient history in gaming time!) Ms. Pac-Man launched as the first female hero due to the popularity of Pac-Man among female gamers. And Dona Bailey – the only female employee at Atari’s arcade gaming division at the time – created Centipede, a classic of early gaming and a hit with female audiences.
It wasn’t until the late 1980’s and 1990’s that gaming started being seen as a mainly male pursuit. After years of male-centered marketing and sexualised female imagery luring the boys to games, the female market declined. Games that had nothing to do with sex (or even women as such) were marketed with poorly dressed women on covers or posters.
But the pendulum has swung back the other way.
Gaming culture is being shaped by women
There are far more women out there shaping the culture of gaming than you might think, including:
Jade Raymond, founder of Ubisoft Toronto and Motive Studios, who now leads the development of Google’s new Stadia gaming platform.
Jane McGonigal, creative director at Avant Game, author and designer of SuperBetter,the game that helps players tackle real-life health challenges like depression, anxiety and traumatic brain injury.
Brenda Romero, CEO of Romero Games, author and award-winning game designer of 2015 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award with credits in 47 game titles, best known for Wizardry series of role-playing video games.
Female gaming communities are growing and spreading
In addition to these individuals, there are growing communities of women in gaming:
Women in Gaming is a campaign by Facebook dedicated to featuring women across the game industry.
As part of the same initiative Facebook also launched the hashtag #SheTalksGames, a place for women to share their personal stories, challenges and opportunities to move forward the conversation of women in the gaming industry.
The makers of the Girls Level Up documentary have launched of a new video series: Ask A Developer, where girls around the world ask questions about programming and coding and developers answer. The project aims to transition girls from game fans to game makers and empower future creative video makers. “Don’t just play games, make them!”
These communities seek to reframe the narrative around the gaming industry, leading a drive for more women from the games industry to be seen and heard.
This is a huge marketing opportunity
Brands are starting to realize that reaching more women through gaming is a market opportunity. Even brands whose connection to gaming might not be that obvious:
Sephora is sponsoring the Girl Gamer Esports Festival, part of a trend of female focused brands appealing to consumers via video games. Sephora may not seem like a perfect fit to promote its ‘girl-products’ in the ‘male-dominated’ gaming industry, but in fact it is, because here is the change in the gaming industry; women of older generations are playing games a lot more than men are. When we take a look at the PEW Research Center results, in two age groups, 50 to 64 and 65+ the number of older women playing games is higher than the number of men.
Similarly, Coco Chanel developed its own mobile game to promote its jewellery line, as well as its own #cocogamecenter, which seeks to open new doors to the gaming market of young girl gamers.
Support is still much needed.The distressing depth of the sexual harassment of women online that we saw in GamerGate wasn’t that long ago, and attitudes change slowly.
While female gamers are becoming more prominent, creating communities and empowering younger generations, more can still be done to shape the culture of gaming. That’s where brands and marketers have a role to play – and an opportunity to seize.
This is a huge corporate reputation opportunity
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, the expectations of leadership from the CEOs to deliver change is crucial – 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for ‘my CEO’ to respond to challenging times without waiting for government actions.
The rewards of earning employees trust by doing the right thing (acting on social issues, aligning the organisation’s values, purpose and operations) are striking. Employees who feel their employer is committed to doing the right thing are more likely to act as advocates of the organisation, behave loyally (74 percent), have higher engagement (74 percent), and higher commitment (83 percent).
That’s why 2020 will be the year of women in gaming
With more and more women shaping gaming culture, an audience focused on this change, and huge potential rewards to companies who do the right thing, the time is right for marketers and communicators to engage with this audience. The game industry needs female representation, not only to diversify itself, but ensure its success. The opportunities are up for grabs – it’s up to us to seize them.